“PULL!” A mechanical arm flings an illuminous orange disc spinning through the air. Looking down the 24-inch barrel of a Benelli shotgun, the stock sitting snugly in my shoulder, chin forward, both eyes open, an orange disc rises into sight. “Don’t aim,” I’d been told, just squeeze.
The trigger sends a firing pin crashing into a percussion cap at the base of the shotgun cartridge. The gun powder ignites in a frenzy and 28 grams of shot leaves the gun flying through the sound barrier. All going to plan, it will meet with a clay pigeon and turn it to dust, leaving only the smell of cordite in the air.
I was hooked. I’d just ‘powdered’ five clays in a row thanks to my expert instructor, Gene Murphy, chairman of Bishops Hill Shooting Centre. “I could teach a blind man to shoot,” Gene had told me.
True to his word, I’d gone from tensely squeezing the life out of the shotgun to calmly clipping clays out of the sky.
Bishops Hill Shooting Centre between Mullinavat and Glenmore is the premier shooting ground in the South East. The facility is complete with eight enclosed shooting bays and one open shooting stand. Each stand has a clay-pigeon launcher that can be either manually or voice activated. All of the instructors have represented either Ireland or the UK in major shooting championships and last weekend the shooting centre played host to the European DTL championships.
When I arrived at the shooting centre I was a long way from a European class competitor. I had fired a shotgun on a friend’s farm and left my shoulder black and blue.
Gene told me that if you were doing it correctly firing a gun was a painless experience.
Once I was fully fitted out with protective glasses, ear defenders and a shooting jacket, he took me step by step through how to hold, load and cock a shotgun. Safety was the main concern – only shooters are allowed out on to the cement platforms and all guns loaded or not most be kept pointed down range.
For the first quarter of an hour Gene took me through the actions with gun unloaded. Taking the gun from the ground, keeping the barrel pointed down range and towards the sky while closing the breech, relax, call out ‘pull!’ and trace the target and fire early.
It was a routine to be followed. Gene said that the top shooters don’t even have to think about it. Even without firing he could tell whether I was going to hit the clay.
Finally he popped an Eley sport shooting cartridge into the breech. I snapped the gun shut, Gene guided the gun to the correct spot on my shoulder, staring down the sight on the crest of the barrel, a clay pigeon appeared, and I squeezed off my first round of the evening.
“Miles too high,” says Gene.
This is the pattern of things for the first 10 shots. Too high, to the right, or even aiming too much. Gene reckons I need to get my chin forward.
Overcoming my fear of the gun, I lean in, the stock snug in my shoulder, my chin forward and jaw resting on the stock, a clay appears and instantly I fire. To my surprise I nail it. When everything comes together there is a sense of accomplishment in hitting a moving target as it scythes through the air.
With the gun and myself now working as a unit I hit three in a row, then four in a row and finally five in a row. I’m a little shocked when I miss.
Gene says I’m getting cocky as I approach the end of the second box of shells.
To go shooting at Bishops Mountain Shooting Centre, contact them on 085 1126972 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Bishops Mountain Shooting Centre offer individual coaching sessions for anyone hoping to start clay shooting, The cost is e60 and they provide eye and ear protection and the shotgun. Corporate days can also be arranged with groups up to 10 costing e50 per person including insurance. Groups of 11 to 20 cost e45 per person. Groups of 21 and above are e40 per person. For more information see www.bishopsmountain.gunclub.ie.